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How to Fix a Refrigerator

How to Fix a Refrigerator | Today I'm Home
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Last updated by

David Bolton

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February 15, 2021

Is your refrigerator running? If not, it isn’t hard to fix as long as you know how! But first, you must diagnose the problem.

If your refrigerator is leaking, you should check the door gaskets, defrost drain, and drain pan. If it isn’t getting cold enough,  you may have to clean the condenser coils. If it gets too cold it is probably the thermostat or the damper.

The easiest way to find out what is wrong with your refrigerator is to look at what it's doing wrong. Then you can start with the easiest way to fix it. If the simple methods don’t work, then you can move to the more complicated ones.

Before you purchase any new parts, always double check the model on the identification label. This label is usually located under the crisper trays in the fridge. Sometimes, it will be on the side of the interior part of the fridge.

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Table of Contents:

Diagnose

A lot of things can go wrong with a refrigerator, but buying a new one is expensive and often unnecessary. Hiring a professional is also expensive and can cost you as much as a thousand dollars.

Instead of jumping to those options, why not try to fix it yourself. It is best to try simple fixes before deciding to invest in a completely new appliance or a costly repairman. Just look at the symptom your refrigerator is having and the common issues that are causing it.

Refrigerator Not Getting Cold

This is obviously a problem since the entire purpose of a refrigerator is to keep things cold. So how do you get your fridge to get cold again? Well, that actually depends since there are a lot of issues that can cause this symptom.

First, make sure your fridge has power. Sometimes you just need to check the breaker or plug. It is also a good idea to double check the temperature dial. Sometimes it accidentally gets bumped into a higher or lower position.

You should also check to make sure the vents in the fridge are not blocked. This can restrict air flow enough to reduce the effectiveness of your fridge.

Clean Condenser Coils

Air has to adequately flow through condenser coils for a refrigerator to work. Condenser coils are located either on the back of the fridge, or underneath the fridge.

To clean the coils, just use a brush to scrape off any dust or buildup. MAke sure to get all around and between the coils.

It is good to clean your condenser coils one or two times a year for good performance. If you have pets, strive to do it twice a year.

Also, make sure air flow is not blocked by things on top of or below the fridge. This can be garbage, boxes, or anything else. If air can’t get to the coils, it can’t go through the coils.

If your coils are frosted or even frozen, try thawing your fridge for a day or two. Once all the ice and frost have melted, plug the refrigerator back in. If it works, you may have a faulty defrost timer, heater, or thermostat. Find the areas later in this guide for each of these parts.

If your coils are underneath the fridge, there will be a fan to create airflow. If it is too dirty, it will not work right. You can access it by unscrewing the panel. Vacuum the fan. You can also plug in the fridge to see if the fan is working. If the fan is not working at all, you will have to replace it.

To do this, you will have to cut the wires to the old fan. Cut them as close to the fan as possible. Then you will use a wire stripper to remove the insulated cover on the wires. Now, connect them to the new fan.  

Now, you can screw the new fan in. Make sure it is properly secured into the bracket. Insert the bracket into the fridge. Once everything is back into place, plug in the fridge to test it.

Defrost Timer and Heater

The timer can be found in different spots depending on the refrigerator’s manufacturer and model. It can be in the control panel, the back, or behind the kickplate. Once you locate the timer, you just need to detach the wiring and plug in the new timer.

The defrost heater is usually located beneath the refrigerator’s evaporator coils. Once you open the panel, the heater will be a rod. Sometimes it will just be the metal rod, other times it will be inside a glass tube or covered in aluminum.

Pull the connectors off of the terminals and then connect the new one. Now, reinsert the wiring and parts and replace the panel.

Circuit Board

You can check if the circuit board is functional very easily. First you need to locate it. Take off the access panels on the back of the fridge. Once you find the circuit board, check for burn marks. If there are, you need to replace it.

If the circuit board looks good, find the biggest relay. It should look like a big plastic box. Then, plug in the fridge. Knock lightly on the relay to shake up the electrical connections. If the fridge turns on, you need to replace the circuit board.

Refrigerator Getting Too Cold

Several things can cause your refrigerator to get too cold. Sometimes it even freezes up.

Damper

The damper is the small door that controls the airflow between the freezer and refrigerator. It is usually near the top or back of the fridge compartment.

The thermostat controls the damper and tells it when to open and close. Sometimes this communication gets thrown off and the damper remains open too long. If it is frozen in the open position you can defrost the refrigerator.

Other times, you can manually shut it to see if it begins to work. Other times you need to replace it or check the thermostat.

Thermostat

If you need to replace the thermostat make sure you get one that works for your refrigerator model. You can easily acquire the necessary information online.

After you unplug the refrigerator, you will locate the cooling compartment that contains the thermostat. Depending on the model, this could be inside the freezer or even under the floor.

There will just be a few screws that you have to remove to get into the compartment. You should see a part that has copper wires going to it. It will also have a capillary tube. So that you know where to install the new thermostat, remember where the wires are attached. You can also take a picture for reference.

Remove the tube and pull the wires out straight away from the faulty thermostat. There should be an orange wire, a green wire, and two black wires. Attach these to the correct terminals and then put the capillary tube back into place.

Now, put the covers and panels back into place and plug the fridge back in. It should cool properly.

Refrigerator Leaking

Refrigerators can have leaks that puddle up water on the interior and/or the exterior of the fridge. The problem is usually related to the door gaskets, drain pan, or defrost drain.

Sometimes a crooked refrigerator will leak because the water overflows from the pan in the direction of the lean. To fix this,  just find the adjustment screws located on the back of the fridge. They are at the bottom corners of the fridge. Tighten or loosen them until your fridge is level. Some fridges have legs that you can adjust with a wrench.

Door Gaskets

If the gaskets do not properly seal the refrigerator door, they can leak. Sometimes you just need to clean the rubber gaskets for it to seal. However, other times you will need to replace them.

Drain Pan

Your refrigerator will have a drain pan at the bottom. Occasionally it will fill up too much. This causes the water to spill. All you have to do is remove it and dump the water out. However, if it happens consistently you need to find out why so much water is building up.

Defrost Drain

The defrost drain sometimes gets clogged. When this happens, the water has to go somewhere so it ends up at the bottom of the fridge or on your floor.

The defrost drain is usually located at the back of the freezer where it slopes down. To fix it you will have to remove the cover panel.

Insert a tube attached to an air compressor to blow into the drain. You can test the drain by pouring a small amount of water into it.

Refrigerator Making Noise

Of course refrigerators are supposed to make some noise, but if the noise doesn’t sound normal or is too loud you likely need to replace a fan motor.

Condenser Fan Motor

If you unscrew the back cover, you should be able to determine if the noise is coming from the compressor or the fan. If it is the compressor, you may be best off buying a new fridge.

If you determine that the sound is coming from this fan motor, it is a simple fix. Just remove the mounting screws and unplug the old one. Plug your new fan motor in and replace it. Make sure you get the correct motor for your fridge.

Evaporator Fan Motor

Evaporator fans often make chirping or squeaking noises before they go out. An easy test for this is if the noise level increases when you open the fridge. If it does, this is probably the issue. This fan is located at the back of the fridge. Unscrew it and detach it from the wiring.

Now you just reverse the steps to attach the new fan and screw it into place.

Ice Maker Not Working

You probably don’t want to hire a repairman for the ice maker, but if it  stops working, or starts to produce only small cubes, you may be able to fix it yourself.

The most common cause of ice maker problems comes from water blockage. If it is partially blocked, your ice maker may make small cubes. If it is fully blocked, you won’t get any ice at all.

Inlet Tube

Removing the ice maker is easy. Just unscrew it, pull it out and unplug it. This will reveal the inlet tube. Sometimes this tube freezes over because the water pressure is light.

You can melt this ice blocking the inlet tube with a hairdryer. Make sure you keep drying it until you see water dripping out.

Saddle Valve

The saddle valve connects the fridge to the water supply. Sometimes, the needle hole can get clogged. The valve is sometimes in different locations, but check under your sink first.

Turn the saddle valve in a clockwise direction. This should unblock it. If there are mineral deposits blocking the supply, you can tighten it to remove them and then loosen it to allow the water to flow freely.

When to Buy a New Refrigerator

Fridges can last a long time, but there are some things that point to a fridge that is running on its last days. It is usually a good idea to go ahead and get a new refrigerator if yours is over ten years old. It doesn’t make sense to repair a fridge that is likely to have more problems in the near future.

If the fridge is constantly running hot, you may want to check out the new fridges on sale at the local home store. Same goes for fridges that have condensation when it is hot. This points to issues that are not worth repairing.

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How to Fix a Refrigerator

About THE AUTHOR

David Bolton

Hi! My name is David. The Today I'm Home team have spent years with home related projects and researching new ideas. Now we're bringing our knowledge to you, and continuing to share what we've learned as we continue to grow. Let us know if you've got any tips and tricks that would be great to share with the community!

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